At seven years old, Chloe Wilde is determined to become a mermaid, and absolutely nothing will get in her way.
Certainly not the fact that she was born with half a functioning heart — with only the right side pumping — has endured three major life-saving operations, and spent almost a third of her life in hospital.
When the charity Make-A-Wish Foundation UK flew Chloe and her family to Spain and sent her to mermaid school, it was only the four-inch scar down her chest that revealed what a fighter this extraordinary little mermaid really is.
Chloe Wilde, seven, (pictured with her mother Joanne) was born with half a functioning heart – with only the right side pumping – and has endured three major life-saving operations, and spent almost a third of her life in hospital. But nothing will get in the way of her ambition to become a mermaid
For a few blissful hours, Chloe and her family were able to forget about the heart problems that mean she needs a wheelchair to travel long distances, fights overwhelming lethargy and needs medication and extra fluids every two hours through a gastrostomy tube in her stomach to keep her heart beating.
Every year, Make-A-Wish Foundation UK grants hundreds of sick children like Chloe what the charity calls their ‘One True Wish’. Inspired by the story of a boy in the U.S. with leukaemia, the charity was formed in 1986 above a shop in Camberley, Surrey.
In its first year, four wishes were granted — the first to Anthony from Liverpool, who went to meet the characters at Walt Disney World, Florida.
This year, it is hoping to grant 1,000 wishes. But it has had almost twice that many requests.
Wish come true: For a few blissful hours, Chloe and her family were able to forget about the heart problems that mean she needs a wheelchair to travel long distances, fights overwhelming lethargy and needs medication and extra fluids every two hours
Every year, Make-A-Wish Foundation UK grants hundreds of sick children like Chloe (pictured with her mum Joanne) what the charity calls their ‘One True Wish’
However, with your help, these children can get time away from the daily difficulties of living with a serious condition and make memories they can treasure, whatever their futures hold. To make dreams come true and transform desperately ill children’s lives this Christmas, the Mail is asking readers to donate old £1 coins.
Round £1 coins have now ceased to be legal tender and can be exchanged for new 12-sided coins at banks and Post Offices.
But we are appealing to readers instead to give them to Make-A-Wish Foundation UK.
The Mail has partnered with Nationwide Building Society, which will take old £1 coins for the charity until December 20.
Just hand them to the cashier at any Nationwide branch, stating that you wish to give them to the Mail’s Quids For Kids Make-A-Wish Foundation UK appeal.
You can also make extra donations there. If you don’t have any old pound coins, you can donate online, by text, or by cheque (see box, far right, for details).
Chloe’s Make-A-Wish trip had an extraordinary impact on the whole Wilde family — her mother Joanne, father Dan and 13-year-old twin sisters Aimee and Holly. As Joanne, 39, says: ‘Seeing the girls so happy was wonderful. We were laughing, joking and relaxing. I felt the stress slip away. For Chloe, it was a dream come true. She went to mermaid school and talked to a real-life mermaid. She had a mermaid’s tail on and swam, and chose the mermaid name of Ariel. She looked so happy, and I will treasure those memories forever.’
The Wildes were a normal family expecting their third baby when their world was turned upside down at Joanne’s 21-week scan in 2009.
Joanne, who lives with her husband Dan, 38, a CCTV manager in Thackley, West Yorkshire, recalls: ‘We went for our scan on October 21. That date is etched on my brain. The sonographer was staring at the image of my baby’s heart and told me to return the next day to see a doctor. I knew it was bad news.’ The baby had a rare congenital heart problem, which occurs in around one in 5,000 babies. It means the left lower pumping chamber (ventricle) of the heart does not develop normally, while the mitral valve between the left ventricle and the upper chamber is closed or very small. In addition, the aorta — the main vessel that carries blood to the rest of the body — is smaller than normal, so the heart is unable to pump blood effectively.
Joanne, a college learning support assistant, says: ‘The cardiologist gave us three choices. We could end my pregnancy, deliver the baby at term and allow it to slip away, or we could give our child the chance of life with three operations. The first would be in the first few days, the second around six months later and the third by the age of five. If she survived, our child would eventually need a heart transplant.
‘Without the first operation, our baby would die within days.
‘When they told me the baby was female, I envisioned a girl with blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair and, in that second, she became real. I knew I could never choose termination.’
Chloe arrived by Caesarean on March 1, 2010, weighing 6 lb 11 oz.
Chloe’s Make-A-Wish trip had an extraordinary impact on the whole Wilde family — her mother Joanne, father Dan and 13-year-old twin sisters Aimee and Holly. Pictured left to right: Aimee, Chloe, Dan, Joanne and Holly
‘I heard her cry and the emotion hit me like a physical force,’ says Jo. ‘I couldn’t hold her — she was taken straight to intensive care. The next day, she was taken to London for surgery. I insisted that Dan drive me to the register office because I didn’t want her to die without a name.’
Chloe was discharged after three weeks, but her condition deteriorated five months later and she started turning blue. ‘A helicopter was sent from London with a team of medics,’ recalls Joanne. ‘We were flown to Hyde Park, where police escorted our ambulance to Evelina Children’s Hospital. When we arrived, I was told to kiss Chloe goodbye before 12 hours of surgery.
‘I shall always remember that kiss — not knowing if I would see her again.’
Chloe and Joanne remained in hospital for a month, while Dan returned home to attempt to keep life as normal as possible for the twins.
By the time she was two, Chloe had become more ill and her parents drove her to London for her third and final operation. While the operations saved her life, Chloe’s health is delicate and she needs a wheelchair to travel long distances because she tires easily.
Family life is interrupted by frequent visits to A&E. Her weak immune system means a common cold usually requires a hospital admission.
‘Holly and Aimee adore their little sister, but we all fear her becoming ill,’ says Joanne. ‘Surgeons cannot operate on her heart any more — the next stage would be a heart transplant.’
It was a play worker who nominated Chloe for Make-A-Wish Foundation UK. To qualify, a child must be between three and 17 and have a life-threatening medical condition. They must be referred to the charity by a friend, family member or hospital consultant and be signed off as fit enough to take part.
Two volunteer ‘wish consultants’ then visit the child to discuss their ‘One True Wish’. Although the wishes are chosen by the children, it’s about doing things together as a family.
When the charity sent the wish consultants to ask Chloe about her dearest wish, she announced gleefully: ‘I want to be a mermaid!’, proudly showing off her mermaid books, Little Mermaid videos and dressing-up costumes.
The charity arranged for the family to fly to Reus in Spain in June 2016, staying in a hotel with a pirate ship in the swimming pool and visiting a local water park for the day.
But, most importantly, Chloe was invited to ‘mermaid school’ — Sirenas Mediterranean Academy — where mermaid lovers flock to learn about these mythical creatures. The girls were taught mermaid swimming and given their own mermaid tails.
With her blonde hair flowing in the water, Chloe posed proudly for treasured family pictures.
‘The charity thought of everything,’ says Joanne. ‘The crew on the flight announced there was a brave little girl on board and they got all the passengers to hold two hands up in the shape of a heart. It was such an incredible sight — to see all those strangers rooting for Chloe — it made me cry.’
Joanne (pictured holding Chloe), said: ‘Seeing the girls so happy was wonderful. We were laughing, joking and relaxing. I felt the stress slip away. For Chloe, it was a dream come true’